We’re getting a new UN Plastic Pollution Resolution – what does that mean?

At the beginning of March 2022, world leaders, ministers and representatives from over 173 countries at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya formally agreed to draw up a groundbreaking new treaty – to tackle the ever increasing issue of plastics – and essentially, the entire life-cycle of plastics.

So what does that mean? We’ve had all manner or pacts, agreements, directives and more over the past decade or so, all promising to deal with the miracle material that has turned on it’s maker. Local initiatives, levies on single-use items, brand led campaigns… we’ve seen the lot. And still, plastic remains one of our biggest material challenges.

Photo by Lucien Wanda on Pexels.com

It is estimated that 7bn of the estimated 9.2bn tonnes of plastic that were made between 1950 and 2017 are ‘waste’. About 75% of that is estimated to be in landfill – or in our environment. And as plastic is an ever-lasting material, unless we have burnt it, all the plastic we have ever created is still here. Somewhere. Only 9% of plastic has ever been effectively recycled.

This new Plastic Pollution Resolution will look closely at the entire life of plastic – from when it is created all the way through to when it becomes ‘waste’ – and of course, to make sure that it is not wasted, but re-introduced into the design and supply system, thought (you guessed it) a functioning circular economy. Previously a lot of focus has been on the end of the life – the bottle floating in the ocean, framing plastic as a pollution / marine plastic problem. This Resolution will focus on the start too. The production of plastic. This makes a lot of sense; rather than dealing with it at the end, do you really need to have it in the first place…? With plastic production expected to quadruple by 2050 and take up 10-13% of the global carbon budget it is a great place to look at cutting back.

So what happens now? Well, now begins the creation and negotiations, starting with an approved negotiating committee who will begin the process this year and come up with a draft for ratification by 2024. That may seem like a long time, but in the world of standards and legislation, this is REALLY quick.

Watch this space. It is going to get very interesting… in a good way!

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